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Football season provided a bright spot of ‘normal’ in 2020

NIAGARA, Wis. — If there was one saving grace during 2020, it was the fact that the NFL found a way to have a season despite COVID-19. Throughout the year, as my husband’s and my spirits got chipped away with every cancellation of every cultural event we enjoyed, we held our breath as football season approached. Dare we hope that football, at least, would survive the ravages of the pandemic? And when we learned that yes, indeed, there would be a season, we relished the fact that we had one bit of joy to look forward to every week; one piece of normal life would remain to lift our spirits.

I need to take a look back several decades to admit that I was not always a football fan. My brothers, of course, watched the games growing up although they never played the sport themselves. I never understood the game, thinking there were four downs the entire length of the field. But at least I knew that the line on the field marked with a big letter G stood for goal; my college roommate thought it stood for Gladstone because that was her hometown.

When I met my husband in 1970, there was no getting away from learning the game. He was an avid fan and a very willing teacher — much more willing to teach me the game than I was willing to learn it at the time. He had played second-string tackle all through high school and always claimed that it was the second string that helped their first string be so successful; during practice, the second string ran the opponents’ plays so the first string was better prepared for the actual game. It worked — St. Mary’s Menasha played well when my husband was a student, and they had several all-conference players. So, as we watched the Packers games throughout our dating years, he patiently explained the game to me — play by play and down by down.

I have come a long way since those early years. I learned that there were four downs every 10 yards. I know which mistakes bring penalties and can even determine what the penalty is going to be depending upon where on the field it occurs and when in the course of any given play it happens. I know about red flags and yellow flags. I know the strategy behind going for a two-point conversion. I remember players’ names and can tell you the names of coaches I do not like.

But I still get my defensive and offensive positions mixed up — except, of course, for the obvious ones. I mean, I do know that quarterbacks and wide receivers are offensive players, along with tight ends and running backs. The positions of the defensive players I still find confusing. My husband is now working on getting me to remember how to determine where the game is being played by the color of the jerseys; any player wearing white is the visiting team — I think. Of course, I can always check to see which team logo is in the middle of the field, but that cannot always be seen if it is snowing.

For my husband, sons and now grandson, football season begins with April’s draft. They convene at Wausau’s Buffalo Wild Wings — midway from where everyone lives — where, for two days, they discuss their picks with the intensity of pro scouts. I am so thankful this tradition gets my husband out of the house. Once football season actually begins, our lives revolve around the time of that weekly game. As soon as the schedule is announced each year, my husband prints it off and posts it up on the refrigerator. And all of the game dates and times are recorded in our household calendar book.

Once the game begins, life stops for the next three hours. We do not answer the phone during a Packers game, and anyone who knows us well, knows not to call us during the game. And, for those sixteen weeks, our American flag is replaced by the Packers flag on our front porch.

There are, of course, many other rituals connected to this special time of year. We both wear our Packers sweatshirts on game day. And we watch the game a very specific way. A half hour ahead of time, the radio is set up on a TV table “just so” alongside the iPad tablet and the Packer Report. My husband can now check the opposing team’s roster in the Packer Report and can track the game’s statistics on his tablet along with the quarterback ratings as the game progresses.

Just before the game begins, the television is muted, and he tunes in the Packers network’s broadcast on WJNR. Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren do a much better job of announcing than the crew of national sportscasters. Throughout the fourth quarter, we watch and listen closely for the “dagger” — that one final, big play by the green and gold that will cinch the win. And we shout it together, “And there is your dagger.”

I am in charge of half-time snacks. And supper is most always Papa Murphy’s pizza or something that requires little preparation. After all, I do not want to be stuck in the kitchen during the Packers game. Once the game is over, we record the score on the schedule on the refrigerator. At this point, for me, the game is over; I forget about it for the remainder of the week until it is time to prepare for next week’s game.

But, for my husband, that game continues all week long and is not over until the next game is played. He reads every article about it in The Daily News and reviews it when his weekly Packer Report arrives in the mail. And that publication had better hit our mailbox on the appointed day or he gets anxious. He listens to every televised news report about that game — which is over — and watches every half-hour special television program about the same game. And, he “shares” all of the stats, all of the inside tidbits, every piece of information he is reading about with me. I try to be patient. I try to act as though I care about the game — that is over — and I say “hmm-hmm” in agreement with everything he is telling me.

Truth be told, I no longer care. If we were depicted in a cartoon strip, I would have a big bubble over my head with “ARGH.” written in it. But I continue to listen and try to pretend that I care because I know he enjoys reliving the game … after all, I learned a long time ago that his blood runs green and gold during football season.

My husband’s side of our home office is a Packers shrine. He has a Jerry Kramer bobblehead figurine along with a plaque commemorating the Lombardi years that depicts the legendary coach with his star players. A Packers banner hangs near that plaque. There is a photo of Mike McCarthy and a Packers sign post with arrows pointing to both Lambeau Field and the North Pole. Hanging above the computer is a large framed photograph of Lambeau Field after its renovation was complete which commemorates the first kick off in the new stadium on Aug. 23, 2003. My favorite is a gnome-like character dressed in green and gold and carrying a mug of beer in one hand and a bag of popcorn in the other. This accompanies him to Wausau every year — honestly.

Our loyalty to, and support of, the Packers is a very defining characteristic of our household and runs deep. My brother married a girl from the Chicago suburbs and became a Bears fan. To this day, I tease him about his defection to the dark side. And our Minnesota daughter-in-law finds it quite amusing when we refer to the Packers as “we.” A native of New York City and a half-hearted NY Giants fan, she’ll ask, “What’s this ‘we’ thing anyway?” Our son just laughs because he totally understands.

Along with teaching me football during our dating years, my husband also taught me the game of sheepshead one rainy day inside a tent while we were camping at a car race in Plymouth, Wis. I tried my best, but that is one difficult and strange game. Once we were married, I grew to really enjoy the game of football and have continued my loyalty to the Packers these past 49 years … but I never played that blasted card game again.

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NURSING HOMES

The usual senior living activity calendars and senior center menus are not being published to avoid confusion. Due to the coronavirus and the vulnerability of the elderly population, daily life in the senior living facilities and senior centers has changed dramatically.

All living facilities have closed their doors to public visitation, and the activity calendars have been modified to allow for one-to-one room visits only and individualized activities to keep residents engaged and active as much as possible while remaining within the health and safety guidelines provided by state health experts.

Group games are being substituted with individualized activities that residents can do in their respective rooms. Staff are providing supplies as well as “overhead announcement bingo and trivia” games and “hallway games” that can be played in individual rooms or by sitting within individual room doorways.

YouTube and DVDs are being utilized to provide religious services. A big dose of gratitude and appreciation goes out to all senior care staff for their creativity, caring and perseverance through a difficult situation.

All senior centers also have been closed to any center-based activity. Until they reopen, no information is being published that talks about activities typically available at these centers. While some have reopened with limited seating, meals do continue to be delivered.

Some centers also are preparing meals to be picked up. Menus are printed below for those centers that are either preparing takeout or providing home-delivered meals. Questions can be directed to the individual centers at the numbers listed here.

SENIOR CENTERS

Alpha-Mastodon Center

906-875-3315

Amasa Center

906-822-7284

The Amasa Center is a curbside pick-up-only kitchen for now. Call ahead for Tuesdays through Thursdays. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Pepper steak, rice, broccoli and lettuce salad.

Wednesday: Sausage, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, corn and tomatoes.

Thursday: Lasagna, wax beans, garlic bread and lettuce salad.

Note: All meals served with milk, bread and butter, fruit and dessert.

Breen Center

906-774-5110

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Baked chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and California blend vegetables.

Tuesday: Chili and a sandwich.

Wednesday: Swedish meatballs, noodles and broccoli.

Thursday: Baked fish, potatoes and peas.

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk or juice and fruit.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen

906-875-6709

Crystal Lake Center

Iron Mountain

906-239-0278

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Chicken pot pie, biscuit and cranberry sauce.

Tuesday: Polish sausage, noodles and green beans.

Wednesday: Salisbury steak, rice and cauliflower.

Thursday: Italian soup, carrot salad and dinner roll.

Friday: Turkey and swiss sandwich, pea salad and chips.

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk, juice or no beverage.

For more information, call Christine McMahon at 906-774-2256

Felch Center

906-246-3559

Now open with limited seating from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Chili, grilled cheese sandwich and fried apples.

Tuesday: Fried pork chop, fried cabbage and cheesy potatoes.

Wednesday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and winter blend vegetables.

Note: All meals served with skim milk or juice.

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.

715-528-4890

Director: Tiffany White

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Lasagna roll-ups, peas and carrots, dark green salad, garlic bread and fruit.

Tuesday: Salisbury steak, rice pilaf, squash and fruit.

Wednesday: Liver and onions or chicken breast, baked potato, vegetable medley and fruit.

Thursday: Pasties, coleslaw, fruit and birthday cake.

Friday: Chicken patty on a bun with lettuce and tomato, baked beans, sweet potato fries and fruit.

Note: All meals served with whole grain bread and butter and milk.

Fence Center/Town Hall

715-336-2980

For meal reservations, call 855-528-2372

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-528-4261

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Tipler Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-674-2320

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora

For meal reservations, call 715-589-4491

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska

906-498-7735

Iron River Center

906-265-6134

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week –

Monday: Smoked sausage and hashbrown casserole.

Tuesday: Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans.

Wednesday: Sweet and sour pork, rice, Oriental vegetables and dinner roll.

Thursday: Lasagna, cauliflower and garlic bread.

Norway Center

Director: Michelle DeSimone

906-563-8716

The center will remain closed; however, takeout meals will be prepared for pick-up — those picking up must call ahead and wear a mask. Menu for the week —

Monday: Bacon-wrapped pork chop, mashed potatoes and gravy, fruit, juice and dessert.

Tuesday: Chicken alfredo over noodles, garlic bread, broccoli, fruit, juice and dessert.

Wednesday: Taco salad with vegetable toppings, corn, fruit, juice and dessert.

Thursday: Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, squash, fruit, juice and dessert.

Sagola Center

906-542-3273

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Scalloped potatoes with ham, carrots and dinner roll.

Wednesday: Cheese manicotti, green beans and garlic bread.

Thursday: Turkey and cheese sandwich, potato chips and coleslaw.

All meals served with fruit and choice of skim milk or juice.

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